The barnyard on the farm was vast. It was all fenced in of course for the cows. There were several sheds and granaries, as well as the detached garage and the chicken house. Various tractors and other machinery were parked around the barnyard. There was another sizeable fenced pasture beside the house yard.
There Were Cows, of Course
What would a barnyard be without cows? I would say Dad had around 50 or 60 Hereford cows that were bred every year. Those are the cows that are red with a white face and belly. Spring was a busy time of calving. We girls didn’t have much to do with the calving. We just enjoyed watching the cute little calves gambol around the yard. Sometimes a calf would have to be fed in the barn for some reason. Maybe the mother didn’t bond with it or it was having a hard time sucking. To teach a calf to drink out of a pail, you put your hand in its mouth and let it suck on your fingers. Then you dip your hand with the calf’s mouth into a pail of milk. Pretty soon it is drinking milk from the pail.
If you put your hand into a calf’s mouth, it will automatically start sucking. It is neat to feel the strength and the rough tongue on your fingers, but it is really slobbery and slimy.
I was always somewhat afraid of the cows. They’re big. They can kick you. And some of them had horns. Also, Mom and Dad told us that if they have a calf, they can be possessive and charge at you if you get too close. So I tried not to get too close.
The Milk Cows
The cow pasture was at the far side of the farm, about half a mile from the house. Many, many times, we walked out to the pasture to get the cows for milking, if they didn’t come home on their own. Us kids didn’t do the milking though. We just never got the hang of it, and Mom and Dad didn’t insist, so… Mom and Dad milked anywhere from 1 to 3 cows by hand. It was funny when Dad would send a stream of milk from the cows’ teat straight into the waiting mouth of a cat. They would stand on their hind legs and lap up the milk for as long as it was offered!
Mom would buy baby chicks in the spring. They were cute, little yellow balls of fluff. They would be kept inside for a few weeks until they were big enough to go outside. Even adorable little baby chicks can be mean. As they grow up, they establish a ranking system, which is where the term ‘pecking order’ came from. Any chicky that showed any weakness or got a little cut on them were fair game; the others would attack and peck at them. We had to watch out for the underdog chicks and separate them. Once they were allowed to run free, they didn’t feel the need to attack the weaklings so much (or maybe the weaklings became strong enough to fight back).
We always had free-range chickens. In the summer, they would run around the barnyard all day long, scratching out their living! Of course, they would have to be locked into the chicken house at night, to prevent foxes and coyotes from making off with them. They all went into their chicken house and by the time it got dark, they would all be peacefully roosting inside for the night. Then one of us would have to run out into the barnyard and close and lock the door. This was a scary enterprise – running out beyond the barn, probably 200 or 300 feet from the house, in the dark, by yourself, to close and lock the door. But it had to be done, and I took my turn at it.
Cleaning the Chicken Coop
One of the jobs on the farm was to clean out the chicken coop. Let me tell you that chicken sh*t is one of the foulest (pun intended) of smells. It would take an hour to shovel and fork out the chicken coop because we had to run outside to breathe every few minutes. It may sound weird, but after awhile, we got used to even this terrible smell, so we didn’t have to run outside so often. But we were very happy when the job was finally done.
We had two types of chickens: laying hens for eggs and chickens for butchering in the fall to feed us for the next year. The laying hens would be kept in the barn over the winter. The food chickens would, of course, be butchered in the fall.
The laying hens had nests in the chicken coop where they would usually lay their eggs. Several hens would lay their eggs in the same nest. Every day, we would take a pail and gather the eggs. Because the chickens were running around outside all the time, they had access to the barn, and other hiding places. Sometimes, we would find a new nest of eggs in an unused barn stall or under a shed. It may have as many as a dozen eggs in it. This was a special windfall. Mom would use these eggs, but would break each one into a separate bowl first, just to make sure it wasn’t rotten.
The laying hens would over-winter in one of the pens in the barn. There were 3 or 4 small boxes set up for them to lay their eggs in. Sometimes, we would go to gather the eggs and a hen would be sitting on the nest. We had to reach under her to get the eggs that were already there. She would usually make a broody growly sound as we reach under her, and sometimes try to peck our hand or arm. It didn’t really hurt, but it always surprised me!
I’m going to describe chicken butchering day. Skip it if you don’t really want to know all the gory details! This was a normal part of our life on the farm. We didn’t get our roasting chickens from the grocery store; we grew them ourselves.
We would set a day in the early fall when the neighbours (my friend and her mom) would come over to help us. Dad would do the butchering (chopping off their heads). Then Mom or Dad would dip the dead chickens in almost-boiling water for a minute or so to loosen the feathers, and hang them up by their feet. It was us girls’ job to pluck the feathers off of the chickens. Then Mom and the neighbour mom would do the cleaning out of the innards. The cleaned chickens would then go into cold water until the next day when they were packaged in plastic bags and put in the freezer.
We would reciprocate with our neighbours when it was their butchering day. We probably did 50 to 60 chickens a year for each family.
One Farm Dog
There was always a dog on the farm. The dog stayed outside, summer and winter. He had a dog house. But in the winter, he would stay in the barn where it was warmer. The dog would help chase the cows home if we needed to get them from the pasture. I’m sure the dog also discouraged other predators like coyotes, foxes and skunks, from hanging out and trying to mooch a chicken dinner.
And Always Cats
The farm was always crawling with cats. Several litters of kittens would be born every year. They controlled the rodent population around the barn and house. And they provided hours of entertainment and cuddles for us girls and our friends.
The house and barn yards were bordered by grain fields. There were wheat, oats, and barley at one time or another. For several years, Dad planted corn in the field next to the house. It was always fun to play hide-and-seek in the corn field when the plants got high enough to hide us.
The corn was used to make silage for the cattle, kind of like porridge for cold winter days. There would be a few days scheduled in the fall when the corn was cut and chopped up. Then it was placed in a pile beside the barn. As the pile grew, Dad would pack it with the tractor, and we would wet it with water from the hose. When it was finished, it covered about 15 x 30 feet and was about 10 feet high. It was then covered with heavy plastic and straw bales placed over it to keep the plastic in place and to keep it from freezing. When Dad uncovered it every day to feed the cattle, it would be steaming like porridge!
And then there was the barn, the best part of the new farm, the place we spent most of our playing hours…
‘Til next time…
From Your Mom